02 April 2008

Solely motivated by what is best for the people

And so after a political career lasting over three decades and a period as national leader extended not once, but twice beyond what most observers would have thought his natural span, the once proud autocrat bows to the will of his people amid a plummeting economy and serious accusations of fraud, bribery and political corruption.

Its hard not to draw some parallels between Zimbabwe and Ireland today, however facetiously.

Unlike Robert Mugabe, Bertie Ahern can not fall back on the destabilising legacy of colonialism to justify being caught with his hand in the cookie jar to the tune of over €500,000 in unaccountable lodgements in sterling and punts into the bank accounts of his wife, 'civil partner' and associated friends (as he did not have a bank account of his own while Minister of Finance or Taoiseach). What really rankles is the fact that not only did he get away with this for so long, but that when these allegations started to emerge before the last election, his popularity actually rose, and his opinion polls went up.

A friend of mine in the Netherlands asked a group of us yesterday who would the Irish hold up as political and business heroes. She was making a presentation to her Dutch colleagues, and although she is Irish she couldn't identify a single contemporary figure that could be shown as a role model (without avoiding the usual suspects such as Bono, or Geldof). The trouble is that as a nation we like a rogue, someone that we know is cheating but gets away with it, and does so boldly and cheekily. This means that many of our business and political leaders feel untouchable, and carry on with a flagrant disregard for the fact the everyone knows they are up to something; they just don't care!

A few examples might be in order at this stage!

Ireland's proudest contemporary entrepreneur Denis O'Brien, founder of Esat, 98FM and now a tax-exile in Malta while running Digicel, the largest mobile company in the Caribbean, was appointed Deputy Governor of Bank of Ireland while simultaneously being investigated by the Moriarty Tribunal for irregularities (ie bribes) in the application process for Esat's original mobile phone licence in Ireland. He subsequently resigned from the bank citing the demands of his extensive travel commitments between Malta and the Caribbean.

Staying with Bank of Ireland, Mike Soden resigned as Chief Executive back in 2004 after being caught accessing websites of an adult nature on his office PC.

Ben Dunne, current fitness club mogul and previous holder of the title of Ireland's proudest entrepreneur was arrested in 1992 in Florida for cocaine and prostitute-in-a-hot-tub offences, and subsequently exposed for payment irregularities (ie bribes) to Bertie's political predecessors.

Michael O'Leary, CEO of RyanAir, was discovered to have obtained a taxi licence so that he could drive in the bus lanes on his way into work in the morning. Compared to the behaviour of other business leaders this almost makes Michael seem loveable and charming.

It is this belief in their own righteous invulnerability that unites them all with An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who as he walks towards the political gallows continues to maintain his complete and utter innocence, with the self-sacrificing love a true patrician has for his people:
"The decision I am announcing today - like all other decisions that I have taken in a lifetime in politics - is solely motivated by what is best for the people. I have been reflecting on pursuing this course of action for some time. This is solely a personal decision. I have no doubt that a simplistic analysis will suggest that my decision has been influenced by most recent events at the Tribunal. What I announce today is completely inspired by the desire to refocus the political dynamic in Ireland...
...I want everyone to understand one truth above all else. Never, in all the time I have served in public life, have I put my personal interest ahead of the public good. I have served this country and the people I have the honour to represent in Dáil Éireann honestly...
...I have never received a corrupt payment and I have never done anything to dishonour any office I have held. I know that some people will feel that some aspects of my finances are unusual. I truly regret if this has caused any confusion or worry in people's minds. All of these issues arose in a period when my family, personal and professional situations were rapidly changing and I made the best decisions I could in the circumstances in which I found myself. I know in my heart of hearts that I have done no wrong and wronged no-one."
Bertie Ahern, Resignation Speech, April 2, 2008

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